How an entire generation was brain-washed by Little House on the Prairie

When I was a second grader back in the 1970’s, I read and re-read the Little House on the PrairieSeries by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It sparked my imagination, and made me wish that I was a little pioneer girl just like her.  I couldn’t decide who I was more aligned with – Laura Ingalls or Jo March, from Little Women. In the end, they were both wonderful books with beloved female characters.

Fast forward to the TV show, also titled “Little House on the Prairie”. This dramatic soap opera of a series ran from 1974- 1982, and featured Melissa Gilbert as Laura, Michael Landon as Pa, Karen Grassle as Ma, and Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary. Obligatory twin sisters Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush played Carrie, and a variety of other cast members portrayed the roles of Nellie Olson, Mr. Edwards, and Reverend Alden. The show was sticky sweet, and every week seemed to bring a new calamity to the town of Walnut Grove.

As an impressionable 8 year old, I loved this show. It was always broadcast on Monday night, and it seemed like fine entertainment at the time. So when I was channel surfing recently, I was thrilled to find Laura and the whole Ingalls gang in syndication on one of the cable channels. And that, my friends, is when the realization finally dawned on me…

Wait – am I about to be sacrilegious and diss one of the Hallmark Channel’s favorite primetime re-runs? I’m not sure how controversial what I am about to say may be to some – but I have got to be honest. With age comes wisdom, as they say.

Here goes: “Little House on the Prairie” was a crappy, sappy TV show.

I mean, a real stinker; on the same level of painful TV viewing as “Three’s Company“, “The Love Boat“, and “Welcome Back Kotter.”

Did you know that there are more than 5 websites that list, one after another, every episode of every season of the show? As I glance through all eight seasons of illnesses, injuries, love affairs, deaths, and neighborly angst, I remember most of them. And all of that sermonizing they did! I think I spent more time in the Walnut Grove church-slash-school building then I did at CCD class preparing for my first communion.

It took years before I grew tired of Laura’s buck-toothed tears, or Nellie’s corkscrew curls. I kept hoping Mary wouldn’t lose her sight, or that Caroline would finally give birth to that baby boy that Charles was always yammering about. Even through the Michael Landon Kodak years and that odd season when they all lived in the town of Winoka and adopted weak-chinned Albert , I stuck with the Ingalls family. I was brainwashed into watching that show every week until I was in middle school, when I finally let the Force Be With Me and fell in love with Starbuck (Dirk Benedict’s original Starbuck, thank you very much).

By the early 1980’s, the whole story arc of the series was centered around Nellie marrying a Jewish guy, Laura finally meeting that goofy looking Almanzo, Grace arrives, and Mary is still blind. Through it all, Pa still manages to spend at least one or two episodes every season saving someone from dying or preaching some more of those Mike Brady/Andy Griffith words of wisdom. The whole show finally jumped the shark in Season 6 when the School for the Blind burns down and Mary’s baby dies. I still remember watching that particular episode with my mother, and the way we looked at each other and rolled our eyes over all the melodrama. It was just too much. Enter puberty- and my Little House on the Prairie watching days were over.

I didn’t pay much attention to the last, straggling seasons as the series wound down. Laura spent a lot of time worrying that Almanzo, with that fabulous bowl haircut, was cheating on her. Charles and Caroline find some more children to adopt, Charles saves the lives of some more really depressed (and depressing) people, there is a lot of Christianity-talk, and Mary is still blind. Apparently, Walnut Grove was a hotbed of crime and disease in the late 1880’s, since so many episodes seem to revolve around death and hostage-taking. Who knew?

Whatever. Back to my original intent for writing this blog in the first place – I just cannot believe how unwatchable the shows are to me now. My forty-four year old self just sits with my mouth open, unable to endure all that saccharine and bad luck. The show was canceled in 1982, preparing the way for Michael Landon to pursue additional religious-themed TV shows, a divorce scandal, and coffee enemas. Melissa Gilbert got a nose job, but that was about the only job she ever got after the show ended.

There were a few, final movies to wrap up the loose ends, all of them sporadically starring the original cast. In the last of these post-series movies, the citizens of Walnut Grove band together to blow up their town in order to keep a railroad tycoon from taking control. Seems to me, they could have done that a lot earlier in the series, and saved a generation from whole lot of pioneer headaches and heartaches.


About S.L. Schmitz

S.L. Schmitz lives in Indian Trail, NC with her husband and son. There is an ever-changing menagerie of cats who graciously allow the family to share the house with them. In addition to reading and writing, she enjoys scrapbooking, drinking martinis, and making snarky comments about a variety of topics. Feel free to email her at thedeadgirl25(at)yahoo(dot)com

Posted on May 13, 2012, in About Me and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. That made me laugh! I also watched LHOTP religiously when I was little. I really thought it was the sh*t. But now, watching it on Hallmark channel, it makes me want to retch. It was so goodie-goodie it’s icky. Granted, some of the crap they show on TV now is a little much but LHOTP was too sweet… diabetic coma sweet! Ugh.

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